As last year was drawing to a close, Reverend Sean Neil-Barron found himself reflecting on what a hard year 2023 was for LGBTQ+ people. One element of that: by the ACLU’s count, more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in legislatures across the country, a record-breaking increase.
“I was kind of sitting with that reality. and also being a queer person myself, I was just realizing what the church needs to step into this gap and say something,” Neil-Barron said. “What if we created this queer little oasis, this little queer sacred space at the holidays for folks to come and see their lives and their community lifted up as worthy, which is so needed right now?”
Neil-Baron is an Associate Minister at Foothills Unitarian Church in Fort Collins. And the result of his reflection was a brand new holiday performance that retells the Christmas story with the goal of affirming and highlighting the queer community.
The tale of the Magi was the starting point. Neil-Barron noted that while the Magi are often called the three wise men, some biblical translations describe them as sorcerers, who traveled from Persia to bring gifts to Jesus.
“So they're these outside figures. They aren't Christian, they aren't going to be Christian, and yet they feel called to go and celebrate this new life. And so we kind of sat with this idea of like, oh, there's these kind of mystical sorcerers that are kind of seers of the future," said Neil-Baron. "They're coming to celebrate someone who is not their own. What would it be like, if they were drag performers?”
From that inspiration, the idea evolved further.
“What if they embodied this search for queerness? … Instead of just finding Jesus, what if they actually stumble upon queer people coming alive, being born again, claiming joy, claiming hope, claiming resilience?” said Neil-Barron.
The church’s A Drag Christmas Spectacular — advertised as a ‘Christmas story not for the faint of heart’ — debuted on the day before Christmas Eve to a sold-out audience. Neil-Barron describes it as a multifaceted experience: part theater, part drag show, and part real-life storytelling.
Kris Mendonça, a multimedia artist and drag queen who performs under the name Krisa Gonna and has worked with the church before, wrote and performed in the show. He said the project was ambitious, but also healing for him — something he hopes the audience also found in it.
“This — hopefully — new tradition that queer people are creating — we're creating this together. I think it might be healing (and) a teachable moment for non-queer people that are watching the show. But also a healing moment for queer people too; it might give them a new opportunity to feel good about this time of the year,” Mendonça said.
The show appears to have resonated; on Saturday, Jan. 6, the church is putting on an encore performance, in honor of Epiphany.
Kelsey DiAstra, Foothill’s creative and communications manager, noted that the show aligns with the church's ongoing dedication to embracing diversity and fostering inclusivity.
“Something that's been really unique, I think, for a church in our space is we are not just accepting, we are not just affirming, but we are approaching our LGBT ministry programs… from a place of celebration.”
While the show is full of light-hearted moments, Rev. Neil-Barron emphasized the event's deeper significance: “Queer and trans lives are sacred and they deserve a place of honor in our religious communities, in our culture. And that honoring needs to take place on the terms of our community, And that's what we're hoping to do with this Spectacular.”
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